3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11

You're such a shrewd

Amos 8:4-7     
Psalm 113    
1 Timothy 2:1-7    
Luke 16:1-13    
Proper 20
September 22, 2019
You’re such a shrewd
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    Robert Capon calls the Parable of the Unjust Steward—the hardest parable.  I went back and read what I said on this text three years ago and I am surprised you all didn’t try to bring me up on charges of heresy. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad but definitely not my finest work.  This is not an easy parable to interpret.  It is not an easy parable to hear as Christians.  We do not really enjoy hearing, “be like the shrew business people.”  After the 2008 recession, the idea of acting like banks who prey on unsuspecting consumers and robbing people blind of their financial futures does not seem very Christ like.  

    There are some that claim Jesus never said this parable—that it was added years, hundreds of years, after his Ascension.  The problems with this approach is that we have no way to prove Jesus didn’t say it and the second, if Jesus didn’t say it, who did? And where do you draw the line?  Can we just pick and choose what we like and don’t like?  That sounds a lot like modern day consumerism—a problem that has been plaguing the church for the last 50 or 60 years, but that is a sermon for another day.

    I come from the approach that Jesus told this parable and that Jesus wants us to hear it from a background of grace and not morality. Don’t look to this parable on how to live as a Christian.  Most of the bad interpretations of this parable are a result of not being able to hear the parable in the original language.  Two key words stand out in Greek:  Wasting and money/possessions. These two words point the parable towards a grace interpretation verses a morality interpretation, Wasting—diaskorpizein is the same verb used in the Prodigal Son to describe the boy’s wasting of his substance in a foreign country.” I think Jesus/Luke wants us to think Prodigal Son.  

    And notice the interaction between the master and the unjust steward.  “The Master—without any trial or fair inquiry—simply reads the steward the riot act:  “What’s this I hear? You’re a disgrace! Turn in your books! You’re fired!”…Just as with the Prodigal son, death enters this parable early...The son found himself to be dead in some far country; the steward comes out of his master’s office with none of his old life left at all.”  Both of these men are essentially dead—trapped in their own skin with no way out.

    But this is where Jesus takes the parable on a different direction and I am thankful that he did.  We already have a parable on Prodigal Son.  The Parable of the Unjust Steward tells us something different about God, Jesus, and coming dominion of God.  So notice what happens after the unjust Steward’s life is taken away.  He says to himself, “What shall I do now that my master has taken away my managership.  I am not strong enough to work as a laborer.  I’m too proud to be a beggar.  Aha! I got nothing.  I’ll use my brains and try to out act that unforgiving tyrant.  So, he wants to play letter-of-the-law games, does he? He would like me to turn in my books, eh? Alright, I’ll do just that—after I’ve made a few…adjustments.”

    So, he goes to the master’s clients and starts slashing their bills.  Pay now in cash and you only have to pay a small portion.  This could go two ways.  The master could be very upset that he is not getting fully compensated for what was borrowed.  Essentially, the unjust steward just cost the master lots of potential capital.  On the other, cash is king.  It really doesn’t mean anything if all your money is tied up in loans.  Those are just numbers on a paper, and numbers on a paper do not buy you dinner.  What matters is how much cash you have in your till. And this has a duel effect.  Not only does it give the master some cash, it makes the unjust steward look like an amazing guy who is worthy of receiving help in the future by these same people who just had a massive part of their loans forgiven.  Remember what the Steward said: “I am not strong enough to work as a laborer.  I’m too proud to be a beggar.” The unjust Steward is going to need a place to live if this doesn’t work out. 
 
   The unjust steward forgives a great deal of debt and the master turns around and praises him for his action.  Remember I said that we should hear this parable from a standpoint of Grace.  Forgiveness is key to hearing the parable.  The steward, who finds himself dead, realizes that “he is freed by death to think about things in ways he could not have thought before.” He who was once dead “becomes the agent of life for everybody in the parable”  The unjust steward also shows us resurrection—the debtors would only make the deal with someone who was unjust and as crooked as they were:  “They would never have gone near him if they hadn’t been convinced he was dead to all the laws of respectable bookkeeping.” 
 
   In many ways, this parable describes the death and resurrection that is awaiting Jesus in Jerusalem.  The unjust steward dies and rises like Jesus.  By his death and resurrection, the unjust steward raises others, just like Jesus.  And probably the most important shared quality is that both Jesus and the unjust steward are both crooks.  Yes.  I said that.  But hear me out.  Look at the Biblical narrative and all the offensives that Jesus has committed.  Jesus broke the sabbath. He ate dinner with crooks.  He died as a criminal.  “Jesus became for us sin for us sinners, weak for us weaklings, lost of us losers, and dead for us dead.”  

    “St. Augustine said: the cross is the devil’s mousetrap, baited with Jesus’ disreputable death.  And it is a mousetrap for us, too.  Jesus baits us criminals with his own criminality: as the shabby debtors in the parables were willing to deal only with the crooked steward and not with the upright lord, so we find ourselves drawn by the bait of a Jesus who winks at iniquity and makes friends of sinners—of us crooks, that is—and of all the losers who would never in a million years go near a God” are somehow drawn close to God and receive a once in a lifetime deal—forgiveness.
    God becomes a crook in order to save a crook like you and me.  Does that make you feel a little uncomfortable?  It makes me feel a little uncomfortable.  In fact, I fear that this idea might upset the entire social order—and I hope it does.  I know is already has. It should upset all us who go through life expecting reciprocity instead of mercy.  Who demand that God give us what we are owed instead of begging God for mercy.  We gussy up Jesus to make him out to be this untouchable person.  We focus only on the divine part, rather than on the human part.  Jesus knows what we go through each day of our lives.  The coming dominion of God knows the struggles of crooks like you and me.  But the good news of this parable is that at the head of this new dominion is a man who lived with crooks and was consider to be a crook by the rest of the world.  And he has a deal to make only with other crooks.

    Are you a crook?  Good.  Take the deal Jesus the Christ has made with you. Take the forgiveness.  Because we aren’t dealing with a Just Steward.  Dealing with a Just Steward means we would receive justice and justice is not something your want. Justice means facing punishment for your crimes.  Justice might sound good, but remember we are crooks.  We are sinners.  Rather, we are dealing with an unjust steward, who acts as shrewdly as you and me, and who is making a once in a lifetime deal with you. Forgiveness is the deal of a lifetime.  Take the deal.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Where did I put my keys?

Deuteronomy 30:15-20     
Psalm 1    
Philemon 1:1-21    
Luke 14:25-33     
Proper 19
September 15, 2019
Where did I put my keys?
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    A common question asked by me in my house is not, "What's for dinner?" It's not, "Where's the baby?"  It's not even, "What's that smell?" The most common question is almost always, "Where did I put my keys?"  Almost every day, I lose the little suckers.  And the first thing I do when I lose them, I blame Diane.  She almost never moves them unless it is to move them to the key hook.  Thomas has been known to take them but he usually pushes the panic button the car so it is easy to find them—Just listen for the little boy squealing with either excitement or fear. They typically fall in the couch, or are left in a bucket in the basement, or on my dresser buried under clothes (Funny thing is, the clothes were there before I put the keys there, so how did they end up underneath the clothes?) I have put them in the refrigerator.  I have locked them in my car while the car is running (it has been a while since I have done this).  Me losing my keys have gotten so bad that my wife bought me this keyfinder.  It uses bluetooth to help me find the keys.  I just open the app on my phone (which I lose equally as much as my keys) and hit find my keys.  What I also love is that I push this little button on my keys and it rings my phone.  The only problem is that the keyfinder needs to be charged every 45 days.  

    You think they have a notification come up on my phone that says it needs to be charged, but the keyfinder people have not gotten the memo.  People who need this keyfinder are not the kind of people who remember to charge these things.  I usually find out that the thing is dead when I go to find my keys and it says, "Battery needs charge." This happened in Nags Head.  I lost my keys and everyone in that house was ready to kill me.  30 minutes of running around the house to find my keys.  They were in the bathroom under the step stool for Thomas to wash his hands.  When we found them, there was no rejoicing like the woman did. We didn't throw a party.  My wife and Jess made me charge my key finder before I could leave the house. They yelled, but I rejoiced.  Those key fabs cost like $60 a piece to replace and I have three on my key ring.  I was happy to not have to spend $180 plus on those new fabs.  

    As someone who loses things, forgets things almost every day, I feel like these parables were meant for me.  Do you feel that way? The rest of the world might not care about me finding my keys, but I do.  The rest of the world might not care that this woman lost here one coin, but she does.  The rest of the world might not care that the shepherd found that one sheep, but he does.  These things mean the world to the shepherd and the woman.  They mean that they can put food on the table for their family.  These meaningless things such as a coin, a lamb, and even my keys, they mean that WE hear how the dominion of God is coming near.  

    So, we all know that parables function as metaphors that challenge and or invite us into a new or deep understanding of God's dominion, a dominion identified with the last, lost, least, little and lifeless.  And in this case, with those who lose important things every day of their lives.
    We as Christians are moved by images and parables around sheep and shepherds.  There is a common image of a Jesus carrying a lamb, one such piece of art dating back to the third century found in the catacombs of Rome. They were painted at a time when this kind of artwork was deemed illegal.  This image of Jesus holding a lamb is a powerful image that could have cost the artist his or her life.  Yet, it was deemed necessary because of the comfort it gave to people who were laying their loved ones to rest.  So, when we hear this passage, we immediately have images of Jesus with a flock of sheep, but what about those who hearing this parable?  What images come to their minds?

    In the first century world, outside the Biblical ideal of shepherding, "shepherds were seen as shiftless, thieving, trespassing hirelings."  "Shepherding was listed among the despised trades by the rabbis, along with camel drives, sailors, gamblers with dice, dyers, and tax collectors." It is safe to say that shepherds (along with camel drives, sailors, gamblers with dice, dyers, and tax collectors) are a part of the last, lost, least, little and lifeless.  They are the sinners sitting at the table with Jesus.  They are the sinners that Jesus welcomes into his circle of disciples.  

    A quote from a Gettysburg Seminary professor from years ago says, "Whenever you draw a line in the sand to say who inside the kingdom of God and who is on the outside, Jesus is always going to be on the other side of that line.  Jesus is always with the outsiders." Jesus is with the shepherds, or in modern day terms, those shady fellows who sell things out of the back of their cars.  Jesus is with them even though we might fervently want to keep them out. “Jesus' actions in accepting sinners and eating with them reflects God's gracious spirit toward those who were held in contempt by the Pharisees and scribes.” It also resets Jesus’ priority and therefore God’s priority.  Jesus doesn’t want righteous people.  He wants to be with people who know they are sinners, who need Jesus, who cannot do it on their own.  “God takes more delight in the return of the tax collectors and sinners than in the others, and because the [Pharisees] take offense at Jesus’ celebration with the tax collectors and sinners, they show that their spirit is far from God’s.” That “God takes more delight in celebrating with a repentant sinner than with the scribes and Pharisees” who feel like they are righteous enough all on their own.

    Jesus is with the sinners.  Jesus is with the people who know just how screwed up and sinful they are.  Jesus has no need to be with people who don’t need him. Jesus is with the people who lose things all the time.  Jesus is with the woman who lost $120 dollars.  When we read this story, especially as Americans, we hear a coin and think a quarter.  But a drachmas, a silver coin, was worth about the same as a Denarius—a day’s wage. She has 10 of these coins so $1,200. Who wouldn’t tear up the house for $120.  I have tore up my house looking for my wallet that has all of $10 in it. You  would celebrate if you found the $120 you lost.  You would celebrate at what you have recovered.  God celebrates when you, a sinner, have been recovered.  God celebrates not at what God already has, but at the recovery of what everyone deemed as lost.  Notice something key about these two parables:  The focus is not on the act of repentance itself.  If that was the focus, Jesus would have chosen another parable that spoke to repentance.  The commonality between the two parables is the party being thrown by the shepherd and the woman.  The real focus of these two parables is therefore the celebration that God is throwing on behalf of the lost and sinful, and the righteous are beckoned to join the party.  “Those who find God’s mercy offensive cannot celebrate with the angels when a sinner repents.  Thus they exclude themselves from God’s grace” and God’s coming dominion.

    So, celebrate when a sinner confesses their sin.  Celebrate when the lost are brought home.  Celebrate the little things. For God’s mercy is mercy for a reason.  If we received what we deserved, it would not be mercy.  It would not be grace.  It would be reciprocity.  It would be something we are owed for services rendered.  God could care less about you have to give. God cares about you needing God’s mercy, love, and grace.  We are given mercy because we could never afford what God gives us, gives you, gives me. And you will never be able to receive God’s mercy if you continue to have a grudging spirit against others not like you.  “Only those who can celebrate God’s grace to others can experience that mercy themselves.” So break out the party hats, the noise makers, the fancy glasses and fancy plates and enjoy the celebration for the things you thought were lost have been found. 
 
   In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Decluttering Discipleship

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 
Psalm 1
Philemon 1:1-21 
Luke 14:25-33
Proper 18
September 8, 2019

Decluttering Discipleship

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

"So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."  It would appear, on the surface, that none of us are ready or able to be a disciple of Jesus.  I'm not giving up my retirement.  I am not giving up my paycheck.  I am not giving up my home.  I am not giving my car.  I am not giving up my clothes.  I, by the very literal meaning of this verse, cannot be a disciple of Jesus, and yet, here I am. An ordained pastor in Christ's church.  

It is amazing that so many claim to be literalist of the Bible till we get to passage like this one.  "Well, clearly Jesus was speaking in a metaphor here and not literally."   This is why I am not a Biblical literalist but I am by no means any less devout in my belief of what is written in this holy book.  There are metaphors and we need to carefully read the Bible.  We need to not only understand the words on the page, but we need also to understand the world behind the text.  We need to understand the context.  We need to know the whole picture.  Otherwise, you will you get to passages like Matthew 16 and think Jesus turned Peter into a rock.  

So, what is Jesus trying tell his disciples about discipleship.  The world of the text tells us that Jesus has his face point towards Jerusalem.  He is making his way to the place where he will be martyred, killed on the cross.  "His followers must be prepared to leave everything behind and make their commitment to Jesus as complete and all-consuming as Jesus' own devotion to his mission."  That the demands of discipleship are more than just signing up to be a member.  You have to be ready to stand firm.  Rather than luring the unsuspecting into "unconsidered commitments, Jesus warns the crowd in advance that the way of discipleship will not be easy."  Notice three phrases that Jesus uses:

    1. Verse 26--"Whoever comes to me and does not...cannot be my disciple.
    2. Verse 27--"whoever does not...cannot be my disciple.
    3. Verse 33--"so therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not..."

Whoever does not renounce family ties, bear one's cross, and forsake possessions cannot be my disciple.  And in the first century world, demands like these would have been equally as demanding as they are today, maybe even more.  They would have been so counter-cultural that it is a wonder that anyone continued to follow Jesus after chapter 14.  "Discipleship requires the denunciation of all that we have." Disciples who cannot do this are as useless as salt without salinity.  

Let's break down this first requirement of Discipleship.   "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple." Most of the commentaries that I have read on this verse say that Luke is using hyperbole.  The very word that we translate as Hate does not mean anger or hostility but "indicates that if there is a conflict, one's response to the demands of discipleship must take precedence over even the most sacred of human relationships." But what if it is not hyperbole?  What if this really happens.  What if you father or your mother turns you into the authorities for being a Christian?  What if you spouse leaves you because of your conversion to Christianity?  What do you do?  Do you turn to your family or to your savior?  When put to reality, the hyperbole is no longer a hyperbole.  For "there is no duty higher than commitment to Jesus and to being his disciple."  Not even life itself.  

"Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."  Notice Jesus does not say bear a cross.  Jesus is looking for people to pick up the cross.  There is a big difference bearing a cross and picking up a cross.  One will cost you time and one will cost you your life. This second requirement has me really wondering if Jesus is speaking in hyperbole or if he dead serious about discipleship.  Disciples need to put Jesus before family and they must be willing to not just bear the cross as Simon of Cyrene did for Jesus, but will take one up when called upon to do so. 

And then there are the possessions.  If you can get past hating one's family, taking up the cross, are you willing to put God before your financial wellbeing?  Are you willing to put your wallet where your cross is?  In some ways, Jesus has laid out an impossible task for his followers and no one can become a disciple and that is bad news.  But the Good News is that Jesus  is not not looking for a guarantee.

He is not asking his disciples to sign a contact in blood. The language of Cross bearing has been corrupted by so called disciples and preachers for centuries.  A great example of this is those who demand baptism only be offered to "people who can make a public profession." They ignore passages like this one that makes discipleship, faith in Jesus Christ, near impossible on our own.  If we could do it on our own, we would not need Jesus.  Faith dose play a major part in baptism, whether it be of an infant or an adult, but the Holy Spirit is the one who is moving and doing this vital work.  Not ourselves.  It is God and God alone who does the work of baptism.  

This past week, I was talking to a man in Aldi's who asked me if I was born again.  I told him, "Yes of course I was baptized." He asked when? I replied “As a child.”  He said, "No, that doesn't count." I really despise people who think they are better than 2000 years of church teaching and doctrine around this issue.  I am a pastor of Christ's church.  I read and study the Bible daily.  I have dedicated my life to being a follower of Jesus and helping people in their journey of faith.  Yet, there are times when I doubt.  There are times when my faith is not solid.  Yet, The Holy Spirit ignores my faults and failures, "has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith." 

Jesus is not looking for 100% guarantee because he will never find it with any human other than himself.  Rather, "Jesus is calling for each person who would be a disciple to consider in advance what that commitment requires." That we stop watering down discipleship into something that will make you successful, that will make you rich beyond your imagination, that is void of suffering.  That we stop trying to sell discipleship like a used car—it is not great deal but it is something that will save your life.  

"The cost of discipleship is paid in many different kinds of currency.  For some people a redirection of time and energy is required, for others a change in a personal relationship, a change in vocation, or a commitment of financial resources; but for each person the call to discipleship is all consuming.  A complete change in priorities is required of all would-be disciples.  No part-time disciples are needed.  No partial commitments are accepted." Its either all or nothing.  May the Holy Spirit give you the strength and the will to give it your all.  

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Who's on the B List?

Jeremiah 2:4-13 
Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Proper 17
September 1, 2019
Who's on the B List?

This week, Pastor Diane joined us and preached a prophetic word.  We think you will enjoy it!

Bonus Sermon
While Pastor Matt was down at St. Thomas, he preached on the prophetic message from Jeremiah.  

What the big deal with the Sabbath?

Isaiah 58:9b-14     
Psalm 103:1-8    
Hebrews 12:18-29    
Luke 13:10-17    
Proper 16
August 25, 2019
What's the Big Deal with the Sabbath?
 

   In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Third Commandment:  Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.
What is this?  or  What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.

Notice that Luther does not say anything in his explanation     about not working on the Sabbath but rather focuses his attention on the importance of using the Sabbath to worship God.  Luther believed that the 10 commandments chief function "is not to show us an easy way to heaven, which (with a little hard work) we can reach, but to show us our sin—how infinitely far we are from heaven, God, and our neighbor (who is Christ in our midst!).”  So when we break this commandment, what does it teach us about ourselves?  What ugly truth does this commandment reveal about our nature as 

    And I am the chief of sinners with this commandment and with all the commandments for that matter.  Days off?  Maybe.  Putting God first before wealth, fame, or fortune?  Maybe.  Not swearing... Let's not talk about that one...

    Keeping a sabbath is hard especially when it is my job  lead a congregation in worship on the Sabbath.  However, there are ways that help me worship while at the same time being a leader.  Ask the members of the Altar Guild and you will find out that I am very, very particular about how the altar is set up on a Sunday Morning.  Everything has a place and it has to be in the exact place so that when I put my hands down to grab something, I know what will be there.  I don't have to think about what is coming next.  Worship is a natural movement, a natural flow, for me and I am thankful for this because some weeks my head is just not in the game.  Last week, I felt like I was walking around in such a fog.  I forgot Amanda and her family's last name.  I know their last name better than my last name, but I just could not pull myself out this fog and so anything I did that was impromptu, I felt lost.  But when I got back up to the altar, I knew exactly what to do because the motions are so imbedded in my muscle memory.   Repetition helps me worship and keep the Third Commandment.  

    But as soon as I leave here, I rarely go home and rest.  And I know people who have young children or who jobs that require them to work on Sunday know that Sundays are just another day of the week.  Chasing kids, administering medicine, working on the factory line—it is hard to take the day for sabbath rest.  And even those who work throughout the week, sometimes Sunday is the only time to finish up those weekend projects

    In some ways, the church has not helped with Sabbath.  We are very much like the hypocrites Jesus calls out in the text.  Thankfully though, when it comes to hypocrites, there is always room for one more around the table and in our pews.  We demand people maintain a sabbath day, but yet how many of us complain when a business is closed on Sunday or any other day of the week.  I am not someone who believes Sabbath needs to be kept to a particular day of the week; that there is flexibility.  We say we want the blue laws back but how many of us are willing to give up Sunday brunch after church or running to Lowes for those Sunday afternoon projects?  

    Personally, I am glad blue laws do not exist anymore and I do not believe that getting rid of the blue laws killed church participation.  We simply did not give a compelling reason why participation in church and keeping the sabbath was important.  Why is it important that you come to church?  Why is it important to keep the Sabbath?  So humans do what humans do, they look for alternatives while we, as a church, remained silent.

    Taking a Sabbath day means we will have a healthier life.  When I was in college and seminary, the last two weeks of the semester were spent working all hours of the day and night to finish those last minute assignments (mainly those assignments that I have known about all semester but refused to do till the very end).  After those two weeks, I would typically get sick.  Apparently copious amounts of coffee, very little sleep, an unhealthy diet, very little physical activity, and a break from the work were not part of a healthy lifestyle.  When we push ourselves to work hard every day with no break, our bodies will break down.  The reason for the third commandment is not selfish on the part of God, but was done for our benefit.  To ensure one day a week that we take a break from the work and spend time in prayer and worship of God.

    But people used the law not liberate people but to condemn.  In the mind of Jesus, the Sabbath laws had become oppressive to the people they were meant to protect.  "In Jesus’ view, since the Sabbath law commemorates and celebrates Israel’s liberation, it ought to be a day for enacting—not inhibiting—the present-day liberation of Israelites. Moreover, given the custom of providing water for thirsty livestock on the Sabbath (verse 15), it is surely appropriate to heal a long-suffering Israelite on the Sabbath (verse 16). In none of this does Jesus abolish the Sabbath commandment." 

    "Rather he aims to follow it faithfully. Jesus enters what was, at that time, an ongoing Jewish debate about how to interpret the Sabbath law, locating himself at the less stringent end of the opinion spectrum (see also Luke 6:1-11; 14:1-6)."

    "But this is more than a debate about scriptural interpretation. It is, more fundamentally, an instance of God’s kingdom breaking into the present world. Careful readers will notice that the episode does not really end with verse 17. In the very next parable following this lesson, Jesus continues to explain his actions: “He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like?”” (Luke 13:18)."

    "It is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a tree for sheltering birds, or like yeast that leavens bread for provision and fellowship (Luke 13:19-20). Notice the similarities to the bent-over woman: something seemingly small and insignificant becomes, with God’s loving and transforming power, a vessel to further God’s kingdom. “When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God” (verse 13)."

    What we see as a small and insignificant aliment, was torturous for this woman.  For 18 years, Satan bound her in this state.  18 years she has waited to meet the messiah, the Lord, the one who would free her from this bondage of the devil.  She does not need to wait another day.  And notice, she is the only one praising God in this story.  The leader of the synagogue is chastising her.  She is the only one doing what the Sabbath was design to be about.  "For eighteen years she has been “quite unable to stand up straight” (verse 11), meaning she has been unable to look people in the eyes. Her vision has been limited to the ground in front of her." Now she is able to look people in the eyes.  She is able to lift her hands in prayer and praise to God.  She has been set free from her slavery.  She has been set free to have Sabbath.  

    Why does the sabbath matter?  Why is it important to worship God?  Because you have been in bondage to sin for your entire life yet because of your baptism, you are set free.  You are free from the chasm of sin and have been reunited with our God because of your baptism. You are no different from this woman.  What the world deemed as small and insignificant aliments, these things have kept you from worship God.  Now you are free and are continually set free week after week through confession and forgiveness.  You need to take time out of your busy schedules to give thanks to God because constantly working and running from one thing to another will cause you body to fail making you unable to keep the third commandment.

    I have been with many people on their death beds.  None of them ever said, "I regret I didn't work enough."  "I regret I saw my family too much."  "I regret I came to church too much."  It is usually the opposite.  So do the hard work of saying no.  Do the hard work of resting.  Of being with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for worship.  It is hard to do this work, but it is vital not just to your health, but the health of all gathered here.  When you are absent, we are that much quieter.  We miss your voice. We miss you face.  We miss your presence.  We are that much weaker.

    I know this sermon will probably not make a radical difference in our church attendance or participation.  And I'm not looking to make the numbers I send off to the ELCA make me look better.  I could care less about those numbers.  What I do care about is the spiritual lives of all who come here.  I care about making this a place, a place where everyone is able to explore their spiritual natures and their faith in God.  The only way for this community to exist and do this vital work is for you to be here.  Never think that you coming church is solely for you.  You being here, you taking time to sabbath benefits not only your soul but the souls of those around you.  God's word is efficacious and holy without our work, but it requires that people be present in order to be transformed and sanctified by it.  
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus Brings the Fire

Jeremiah 23:23-29    
Psalm 82    
Hebrews 11:29-12:2    
Luke 12:49-56    
Proper 15
August 18, 2019
Jesus Brings the Fire 

 In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    We are a congregation that can do the impossible. Last year, we and the entire conference of Lutheran churches came together and raised over 20,000 dollars in 6 months to send 15 of our youth and adults to Houston for the ELCA Youth Gathering.  Yesterday, we handed out 150 backpacks, 495 hot dogs, probably 600 snow cones, tons of bottle water, hundreds of our new welcome brochures to people in our community who we may or may never met.  We went beyond the the standard community service project—we engaged our brothers and sisters, our neighbors.      

    When I was approached about this event, it originally started out as just backpacks.  Then we added school supplies.  Then we decided to get the lists from Berkeley county and make grade specific backpacks.  Then we realized we didn't have enough school supplies.  So we asked again and with the help of the Lions Club and your contributions, we made 150 backpacks happen.  And then we ran out in 20 minutes.  

    But that didn't stop us.  We took their names, grades, and phone numbers.  I went to two dollar trees, office depot, 5 and below and bought them out of glue, backpacks, and paper as well as a whole host of other things.  I was like Robert Irvine...pushing two carts full of school supplies. We got enough school supplies in my car right now for the 95 kids who didn't get a backpack yesterday.

    I met someone yesterday who told me that she receives only $430 some dollars a month.  After rent and food, she only had $30 left to purchase school supplies, clothes and shoes for her kids.  I know many of the teachers in our congregation know about these situations all too well.  When you look at the Berkeley County Backpack Program, a wonderful ministry that makes sure no child goes hungry over the weekend, they serve 27 of our countries schools.  Children in our community face hunger scarcity and that does not sit well with me.  No child in our community should ever have to worry about a meal.  No child in our community should ever have to worry about having the necessary tools to start school. No family should have to make a choice between buying clothes for their children or school supplies.  My brothers and sisters, we have found a need in our community and the Holy Spirit would not us stay silent.  

    We doing the impossible is not just a trait of St. John's--it is a trait of the Holy Spirit.  It is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence.  How in the world were we going to fill 150 backpacks?  That was the question I asked and I know many others asked a couple of weeks ago when we started to fill them.  How are going to get enough school supplies together.  The Holy Spirit united us as congregation together along with the Lions Clubs, local businesses and organizations to make this dream we had a 8 months ago a reality.  That is what the Holy Spirit does—the Holy Spirit does the impossible.

    But yet, Luke 12 says, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!...Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! A day after we came together to do the impossible, we read about division.  And not just division, but division that seems to be endorsed by Christ.  It is really an amazing thing that anyone would want to follow Jesus.  It is an amazing thing that people willingly bring their precious, little sons and daughters to the baptismal font.  Being a Christian will cause friction with your family, your neighbors, even people you thought would always love and accept you.  
 
   Being a Christian means we believe that Jesus has brought with him fire to the earth.  Though, I think our 21st century minds run a little to far with this fire imagery.  "Luke has already told us, through John the Baptist, that Jesus is coming with a fire of purification and refinement. Fire also connotes God’s presence."  Think about the burning bush and how it was in that fire that God laid out his plan for salvation for the people of Israel.  Fire also "represents the power of God to effect change in the face of formidable resistance as well as the power to overwhelm God’s enemies." It is no wonder why fire becomes a symbol of judgment, "because judgment is another way of speaking about how unrighteousness, idolatry, and injustice cannot exist in God’s presence."  The fire that Jesus promising to bring, therefore, is not something out Dante's Inferno, but is more like the fire of a foundry where the impure elements rise to the top, are skimmed away, and we are left with a pure alloy that is strong, formidable, and mailable.   

    When you start to peel away the layers of Jesus' words, they become less terrifying and more affirming, though they are still very terrifying and should leave each us with a healthy dose of fear. Jesus also says "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, "It is going to rain'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, "There will be scorching heat'; and it happens." These words about the weather seem a bit out of place, but think hard here about what Jesus is saying.  He goes from talking about division to talking about noticing the weather.  You know when you walk out the door in the morning, look to the west and see clouds, it is going to rain.  Simple observation tells us that. What does simple observation tell you about division?  

    That it is all around us.  How many of us have lost friendships over political beliefs?  It doesn't seem like it is that hard to do these days.  Last week, the ELCA had its tri-annual assembly and made some pretty big decisions—though most of what was decided can only be enforced if a congregation decides it wants to enforce them.  People are dividing themselves yet again.  We have been dividing ourselves, as a church, since 1517 when Martin Luther wrote 95 grievances over the sale of indulgences.  I think from general observation, we should be able to see that division happens all the time because the word of God is a divisive thing.  The word of God says the powerful will fall from their thrones and the lowly lifted up.  The word of God calls us to welcome the stranger as the Samaritan man did.  The word of God gives forgiveness of sin to people said to be unforgivable.  The word of God upsets the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.  The word of God is going to cause division. 

    The question is, will these divisions cause us to fracture away.  When do we call it quits?  What is that red line in the sand for you?  I think in many ways, events like yesterday show us just how strong we can be united as one community.  Yeah divisions will happen and people will come and go because that is what happens when you mix in sin into the equation.  So, how are you going to interpret the present time? What do you see in our future? In your future?  
    I'm not sure.  And so, when I am not sure, I turn to Mary who was unsure of her future. As an unwed mother carrying the word of God made flesh, she has something to say about interpreting the present time. She says,


‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name. 
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly; 
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy, 
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

May you see that even in the midst of division, in the midst of broken promises, of broken friendships, broken families that Christ is the midst of all these shattered part of your life.  And he is the only stable thing we can cling to in the hope that the basic aspects of this corrupted-world-system will change.  May you see that the work you do as a Christian will cause divisions in the world society, but you are following someone who knows the way.  For our Lord is near.  Have no fear little flock, for the one who brings division will be your strong and everlasting tower of hope, and nothing is impossible with the power of the Holy Spirit at our side.  

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Argh! Treasures Matey!

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23     
Psalm 49:1-12    
Colossians 3:1-11    
Luke 12:13-21    
Proper 13
August 4, 2019
Argh Treasures Matey! 
 

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    I was listening to a Dave Ramsey podcast the other day.  My wife and I did his Financial Peace University last summer and have paid off all our credit cards, our van (as of Friday morning) and are now focusing all our attention on our Student Loans to be paid off in December 2021.  Last year, our target payoff of our student loans was 20 years.  Now, we are just a year and a half off.  So, needless to say, I am a big follower of Dave Ramsey and I believe a lot of what he says about finances to be true, though he said something the other day that got under my skin.

    A caller called into his show to ask about tithing.  He said tithing was just something that evangelicals do.  Let me be clear, Tithing is not just something evangelicals do, it something all followers of Christ should be doing, or at the least striving to do.  Jesus is very concerned about where his followers are invested.  And I am not talking about Morgan and Chase.  I am talking about priorities and how much faith you are willing to put in God to provide for you.  Our Lord talks more about money and stewardship than anything else in the Bible.  More than salvation, more than the cross  because we cannot change the fact that our Lord died for our sins and grants us salvation.  That is a fact that cannot be changed, but how we treat each other and how we express our faith in God (i.e. stewardship) is just as important, if not more important as followers of Jesus.  Are we going to be like the rich fool or are we going to leave everything behind and follower Christ's example?

    When I was first ordained, I was talking with a funeral director about how he had to start hiring off duty police officers to work funerals because so many families would get into fights.  Anyone have any guesses what the fights were about?  Inheritance.  I was stunned, but it is the truth.  So much so that I have told my mom and dad to give it all away because I don't want anything to come in between my brother and I.  The request put before Jesus seems to be older than time—tell my brother to give me my due portion. 

    Though, Jesus dismisses the man's request because he is not a judge or arbitrator.  Jesus probably realized that the man is making the request out of greed and Jesus wants no part in satisfying the greed of the younger brother.  Jesus could have have taken on the role as judge because Moses often filled this role in ancient Israel according to Exodus 2:14 and Numbers 27:1-11.  And the law is clear about inheritances.  According to Deuteronomy 21:17, "the elder brother would receive a double portion of the inheritance.  And in Numbers 27 and 36, "If the father had no sons, his possessions were to be divided among his daughters (Num 27:1-11), but his daughters were then required to marry within their father's tribe so that his possessions would not leave the tribe (Num 36:7-9). This encounter in Luke 12 appears to be a younger brother wanting more than was given to him and Jesus wants no part of the man's greed.  

    Jesus was not looking to debate over whether the law of Deuteronomy and Numbers is fair.  To be a disciple of Jesus means we put things such as greed behind us.  Material possessions do not matter in the long run because food molds, houses fall down, cars break down—but our place in heaven is secured and that is the only thing worth preparing ourselves for.  

    So, Jesus tells a parable about a rich fool.  Now let me just say this about this fellow.  He is not a fool because he is rich.  He is a fool because of how he acts.  Notice how he speaks, What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. He is a fool because all he thinks about is himself.  He doesn't think about the widow in his community. He doesn't think about the kids in his community that are starving.  He thinks about himself and how "his" abundance can benefit him the future.  That makes what makes him a fool.  

    But there is one more thing that he says that sheds light on another part of his character.  In one of the loneliest statements I have ever heard, the rich man says, "And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry."  He can't even have this conversation with another person, he has to have it with his own self. He has nobody else in his life.  It seems he has spent his entire life working to amass a large quantity of wealth and has chosen nobody to join him.  No friend.  No spouse.  No family.  Nobody.  He is a lonely fool who just happens to be rich.  And I am not saying that we need to be married to find happiness—I just can't imagine going through this life without even having a friend to talk too.  How lonely this poor man must be and he can't even see how pitiful his life truly is. 

    "There is no one else in the story—just the man and his possessions—until God's speaks to him."  Imagine going through your entire life wishing and praying for God to speak to you and the first time God speaks to you, he calls you a fool.  Yeah, poor life choices.  "No sooner has he envisioned his future than God speaks to declare what the future actually holds for him."  There is no mention that this man has put any of his wealth aside to God. Where does this man's faith lie?  Does it lie in  his ability to plant crops? Manage a business? Handle workers?  Does he even believe in God? Does he believe his success is rooted in God's over abundance or in his own ability to do the work?  This fool is a fool because he doesn't believe in God.  He only sees and believes in himself.  In a sense, he believes that he is God and his fortune is proof of that claim. In his mind, he is worth divine praise and adoration.  

    But we know we know he is not God.  He is nothing like God.  This parable shows us that the kingdom of God is filled with abundance far beyond our imagination and planning.  God gives to all people, even rich fools and as Dave Ramsey often says, “You need to live like no one else so that you can live and GIVE like no one else later.”  Our holy calling as Christians is good managers as to what God has given us and to see that what has taken a lifetime to amass can be taken away in the blink of an eye.  

    This man has spent his entire life working to amass a large fortune and now, this very night, his life he will be demanded.  His possessions take his life from him but then, whose do they will they become?  “He presumed all along that he could hoard the bounty of the harvest for himself, but now whose will it be?" This man will die and nobody will miss him.  His fortune will rot away and nobody will benefit from the food he has worked his entire life to produce.  How is the world going to remember this man?  

    What do you want written on your tombstone?  This parable "holds up a mirror before us and ask us to take good look at our inner lives and listen to our inner voices." To wonder how we want to be remembered.  As one preacher once said, you don't want the pastor to lie at your funeral.  Do you want to be remembered as lonely fool?  Do you want to be remembered as a generous person who went above and beyond to care for people. The Lord is demanding that our lives not be rooted in greed and self desires.  Christian disciples are generous.  Christian disciples are joyful, joy-filled givers.  They care for the community.  They do not isolate themselves from the people around them but see themselves as an integral part of the lives of people in their community.  And you don't have to be rich to be generous.  I have met many people who have so little and yet made sure they shared God’s abundance.  Don't get me wrong, I have met really generous rich people.  I have also met stringy poor people as well.  But that is not the point of this parable.  

    This parable demands that we look at ourselves, whether we feel as though we are rich or we are poor, and decide what is more important:
  • Amassing a large fortune that nobody will ever get to enjoy or sharing in the joy of community and family?  
  • Spending our life isolated and alone or spending it with people we love?
  • To be remembered as a greedy, old man or woman or to be remembered as the generous person who gave of their self each and every day of our your life?
As disciples of Jesus, we don't have time to get bogged down in greed.  Jesus doesn't have time to settle family disputes over whether or not something was divided fairly.  Notice, the man who came to Jesus didn't say, "My brother withheld my inheritance."  Luke wants us to see that the younger brother  receive his inheritance—he just wants more.  And what does it matter?  The fight will forever divide himself from his brother and community.  The younger brother might make himself richer, but he will forfeit his life.  He will be no different than the greedy, lonely fool of the parable—the opposite of a follower of Jesus. 

    So I'll ask again, what do you want written on your tombstone? What do you want people to say about you after die?  Is the preacher going to have to lie? Think carefully about these questions because God has demanded that as followers of Jesus, we must be different. So be different.  Be weird. Don't do as the world does.  Do as Jesus did, leave everything behind, follow him, and be so generous that the world will miss you when you’re gone.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

What Does a Scorpion and Prayer Have in Common?

Genesis 18:20-32        
Psalm 138     
Colossians 2:6-15[16-19]    
Luke 10:25-37     
Proper 12
July 28, 2019
What Does a Scorpion and Prayer Have in Common?
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    Luther once said, "For whenever a good Christian prays, 'Dear Father, you will be done,' God replies from above, "yes, dear child, it shall be done indeed in spite of the devil and the entire world."  My brothers and sisters, when we approach the subject of prayer, specifically the Lord's prayer, we should view it this way - that our Father in heaven wishes to provide all we need despite the devil and all the forces that work against us. Our Father in heaven.  Some find great solace in those words, our Father who art in heaven.  Myself, in particular, because when I think of God, images of my dad and mom instantly appear in my mind.  I have great parents, but not everyone has had such wonderful parents.  Images of God as a loving Father may be foreign to some, but that clearly wasn't the case for Jesus who understood God as being like a father, as resembling Joseph.  Luther, who didn't necessarily have a great relationship with his Father, nonetheless, could envision God to be like a father because that was what he strived to do in his own life with his own children.  He strived to have a relationship with his children, to listen to them, and give them an egg when they ask for it instead of a scorpion.  

    In someways, you could make the argument that Luther is a bit to careless in his theology of prayer- it sounds like all you got to do is pray really hard and God will answer your prayer.  Well, what happens when you don't get what you prayed for? Lord knows I have prayed to hit the lottery many times over and here I am, a still humbled, not rich, servant of the church.  Or what about all those times I have prayed for someone to get better and they didn't.  Did I not pray hard enough for God to hear to me? Luther has been accused of touting bad theology but just remember, Luther lost a child.  Luther knows what it means to not have one's prayers answered.  We should never be so quick to judge and say Luther's prayer theology is devoid of theodicy - why do bad things happen; because it's not.  Luther uses prayer as a lifeline to our father in heaven for when the unthinkable might happen. Like, when a friend arrives late at night, and you have nothing to share with them.  What do you do?  

    You can't let your let your friend's reputation be ruined because you don't want to get out of bed.  Or can you? 21st century hearers of this parable gawk at the idea of getting up in the middle of the night to save one’s honor.  A couple of weeks ago, we left the door on the van wide open all night.  At 4am, a wonderful and kind police officer knock on our door to tell us that it was open.  However, at 4am, I was not expecting a police officer.  I was expecting some kid playing a joke on me. In hind sight, answering the door with a baseball bat might not have been the best decision but thankfully the cop was cool about everything.  

    In our day and time, waking up to help someone in need is not a necessity.  Even for a friend, there are boundaries that we have placed to keep them from knocking on our doors at 2am looking for bread.  But in the society of Jesus, this kind of hospitality was not only common, but was expected.  If someone knocked on your door, you helped them especially if they are your friend, and you would never risk bringing shame or dishonor to their name.  The bread that this man is requesting of his friend, would have been baked in the communal ovens.  Everyone shared in the food meaning that the bread one had in their house was not just their loaf, but was the community's loaf.  

    One of the commentaries I read this week wondered where Jesus came up with this parable and speculated that Jesus saw this happen when he was young, when someone knocked on their door in the middle of the night looking for bread, and Joseph and Mary quickly got up to help their friend.  Jesus saw this hospitality, first hand.  He knows the common response out of anyone in the crowd is to get up.

    "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you." It sounds so nice and like something you can cross-stitch into a pillow, but what does it really mean?  You know, last night, I was putting my son to bed.  We have a routine:  read three stories (his choice) say the Lord's prayer, talk about our day, talk about what we will do tomorrow, and then I always say, "The world is a better place because you are in it."  After that, he is usually ready to fall asleep.  Last night, he didn't want to pray.  He wanted to sing "Old McDonald had a farm." He wanted to tell me about trains.  He wanted me to read him another story.  I said, "No, it is time to pray.  Now make the sign of the cross." Of course, he refused so I took his hand and made it the sign of the cross.  And then I started to say the Lord's prayer and he eventually joined in.  When we got the end, he emphatically said, "Amen." After making the sign of the cross, I told him that that it was very important to talk to God every night.  

    God wants to hear about our day.  God wants to know what is bothering us.  God wants to know what makes us happy, what we want, and what we need.  In many ways, I see the verse "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you." As more of a desire on God's part to want to know what is going on in our life.  Just like my parents want me to tell them about what is going on in my life, what I need to have happen in my life to be happy or simply be able to function—God wants to know the same thing about us.  But God wants to hear it from our mouths. 

    And Jesus gives us a prayer to make this happen, but if we only rely on this prayer, think about all that God is missing out on in our lives.  I want you all you all to say the Lord's prayer but I want you also to tell God about the things you are worried about and the things you are excited about.  Do not hold any of it back.  Prayer is not ATM machine, prayer is a phone line to our Father in heaven.  And our Father, this Father, this parent will not allow you to face your difficulties alone.  We should pray for ourselves because if we don't, the devil will do so on our behalf.  What do you want the devil to tell God about you?  
 
   All the lies and hateful things that the devil has said about you—is that what you want God to hear?  God wants honesty, God wants you.  God wants to know you.  God's job isn't to make you happy, rich, and famous.  God want to know about that problems at work, about your kids not doing well in school, about that test you bombed because you didn't study, or about that goal you made on the soccer field, or about that new promotion that you want at work.  God wants to know about what you are afraid of.  God wants to know about those who are sick around you.  God wants you to pray even in hopeless situations because God wants to be with you and give you what you need.  God's very self.  "God wants you to lament and express your needs and concerns, not because God is unaware of them, but in order that you may kindle in your heart stronger and greater desires, and open and spread your apron wide to receive many things." 

    Are you silent in your prayer life because you have lost faith in God listen to your prayers?  Are you here in this place to pray, or simply out of an obligation to yourself or someone else?  Prayer is one of the most important things we do as Christians and it should not only be done in moments of sheer terror or pain, but at the beginning and close of each day.  If we believe that God is alive and active, why is it so difficult to make ample time to earnestly beseech God and wait for guidance from God? If we believe that God is listening and ready to respond to our prayer, then why do we not place a high priority on prayer? Above all else, my brothers and sisters, pray.  Give thanks to God for all that you have received.  Pray for those things that weigh heavy on your heart.  Pray for the Holy Spirit to live, move, and breath in your life, in our church, in our world.  Pray so hard that you do as Luther said, tug on the ears of God.  Demand God hear you and be steadfast and faithful to your baptismal promises.  Pray and trust that you will be heard by God, and God will answer your prayers because our Father loves you and wants to be with you.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Jesus Hates Housework

Deuteronomy 30:9-14        
Psalm 25:1-10     
Colossians 1:1-14    
Luke 10:25-37     
Proper 11
July 21, 2019
Jesus Hates Housework
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
 
   Last week, we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Immediately following that exchange with the lawyer and parable is the narrative before us.  The commentary that I read this week talked about the important of the complementary relationship between the parable and this encounter with Mary and Martha.  As the commentary says:

The story of the Good Samaritan develops the meaning of the command to love one’s neighbor, and the story of Mary and Martha highlights the overriding importance of devotion to the Lord’s word as an expression of one’s love for God.”

In other words, Jesus hates housework.  That’s right, if you have have a messy home, you are in much better graces with God.  Okay, not really, but it does spark a very good question:  If you had Jesus standing before you, what would you do?  Are the kind of person who thinks, “I would pull up a cushion!” Or are you the kind of person who feels like a gathering of this importance deserves to have some food? Because, let’s face it, whenever Jesus shows up, there is food.  We need Martha’s. 

    See, I think this is more than just a case of Jesus hating housework, but feel free to quote me when you don’t want to clean your house or someone judges you for not having an immaculate home.  “Jesus hates housework”—Luke 10: 38-42. Don’t worry about the dog hair piling up in the corner. God made dogs. God loves dog hair. Everyone, go home, unplug the vacuum cleaner and enjoy the rest of your day. This story, however, is about Jesus upsetting for the second time, in quick session, the social boundaries of the day. It is not out of realm of possibility that Jesus would have entered the house of Mary and Martha.  Remember Luke 10:8, Jesus instructs the 70 to “eat whatever is set before you.” Jesus is doing exactly what he instructed his disciples to do—be open to the hospitality of strangers.  It is the world behind the text that makes this story come alive and holds radical implications for us today.

    Okay, let’s have some audience participation.  Samaritans—high up on the social class or at the bottom?  Women—high up on the social class or at the bottom? I would argue that a Samaritan, especially a male, could hide behind his gender and therefore was of a higher social class over Israelite women.  Once he spoke, things would most certainly be different.  The culture of the time saw women as beneath men, but notice who is sitting at the feet of Jesus?  Mary.  A woman.  A woman is sitting in the place of one of his disciples and Jesus is not telling her to move, to go help her sister make sandwiches.   Jesus, who is an honored and esteemed guest of high social status, has invited Mary, a woman, to sit in the place of one of his disciples and hear the Word of God.  Rabbinic lore from the time says, “Let thy house be a meeting-house for the sages and sit amid the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst...but talk not much with womankind.” The wisdom of the day said that men should be learning from the great sages, not women.  Here, the greatest of all the sages, invites a woman to sit at his feet and refuses to send her away.  

    Social standards of the day say, “Mary is acting like a male. She neglects her duty to assist her sister in the preparation of the meal and by violating a clear social boundary, she is bringing shame upon her house.” But this is Jesus.  The savior of the word.  The one foretold by prophets.  The one who was born in a stable in Bethlehem, whom the angels sang about as the glory of his coming into our world.  The one who constantly tears down social boundaries and replaces them with God grace and mercy. This Jesus is different. St. John calls Jesus the Word made Flesh.  Luke’s Christology helped John develop his theology. 
  • Luke 5:1–Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,
  • Luke 8:11–Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
  • Luke 8:21–But he said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’ 
Luke believes Jesus’ teachings to be the Word of God—That Jesus speaks on behalf of God the Father.  So, if Jesus is inviting you sit at his feet, you sit because you will hear the word of God.  Nothing else matters in that moment because Jesus is about to speak on God’s behalf.  Yes, eating is important, but that can happen later. Although Martha “is fulfilling the role assigned to her by society, she allows secondary matters to distract her from hear the word of God.”  After all, as Jesus said to the devil as he was tempted in the wilderness, “one does not live by bread alone.” In some ways, Mary is doing exactly what a disciple is suppose to do...leave everything behind and follow Jesus.  

    To understand what is happening here, it is best to view the encounter with Mary and Martha through the parable of the Good Samaritan.  “The story of the Good Samaritan features “a certain man” (v. 30), while Martha is introduced as “a certain woman” (v. 38).” Luke starts these two narratives exactly the same, includes issues surrounding discipleship, and then talks about Jesus’ expectations of his disciples.  “The good Samaritan exemplifies the disciples’ seeing; in a similar way, this narrative exemplifies the virtue of hearing.”  Part of being a disciple means you do things and you listen.  Disciples are not just people who go out each day to make sure that the last, lost, least, little and lifeless are cared for. The church is not a social justice organization with sacraments.  Disciples need to also make time to sit at the feet of their Lord.  We need to make time for the Lord, but we are not oblivious to the suffering of people in our world or community.  God’s word should move us to care for others, but we must first hear it. 

    “Moreover, both the Samaritan and Mary, a woman, represent marginalized persons—unlikely heroes.  As a composite, they are model disciples: “those who hear the word of God and do it’ (8:21)” Marginalized persons have a place around the feet of Jesus.  They are, indeed, heroes because they recognize the importance of hearing the word of God and responding accordingly.  Martha takes it upon herself to tell Jesus what he ought to do.  Mary lets Jesus tell her what she should do.   By choosing to attend to Jesus’ teaching while laying aside everything else, Mary exemplifies what it means to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your souls, and with your strength, and with all your mind.”

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that coming to church is a bad thing—a waste of time.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you that we, Lutherans, are not a Bible-believing church. When you come into this place, you sit at the feet of Jesus. You hear his word; are feed on his body and blood; and then you go out looking to help the last, lost, least, little, lifeless.  You are a disciple of Jesus.  Age does not matter.  Race does not matter.  Gender does not matter. You matter to Jesus.  Do not let worldly social rules, roles, and standards stand in your way of sitting at the feet of Jesus.  As Jesus says about Mary’s decision to sit, “what she has chosen, “will not be taken away from her” and neither will your will decision to sit at the feet of Lord, be taken away from you either.  

    “To love God with all of one’s heart and one neighbor as one self meant then and now that one must often reject society’s rules in favor of the codes of the kingdom—a society without distinctions and boundaries between its members.  The rules of God’s society are just two—to love God and one’s neighbor—but these rules are so radically different from those of the society in which we live that living them invariably calls us to disregard all else, break the rules, and follow Jesus’ example.”  And I guess this all means that the world is going to hate you because you follow Jesus, make time to sit at his feet, and care for you neighbor and that’s okay.  Because this world does not hold the keys to your future.  Our future is radically different and it is near.  Don’t worry about the housework.  Sit at the feet of Jesus for you not only deserve it, but you need it so that you can care for your neighbors.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Parable of the Unlikely Helper

Deuteronomy 30:9-14        
Psalm 25:1-10     
Colossians 1:1-14    
Luke 10:25-37     
Proper 10
July 14, 2019
The Parable of the Unlikely Helper
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
    The Shema, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." According to Deuteronomy 6:4-9, it was to be repeated twice a day.

Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. 

The lawyer attempts to ekpeirazo or tempt/test Jesus.  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  The lawyer is an expert in the religious law.  This man makes a living by reading the Torah and delivering his opinion as to what is written.  He knows the answer to the question he is asking Jesus.  One has to wonder, "was the lawyer testing Jesus to see whether he would give the answer the lawyer expected,” or was he tempting Jesus to fully reveal himself as he was on the mountain of transfiguration?  “The lawyer is challenging Jesus' honor but Jesus, who is also an expert in the law, challenges the lawyer with his own question:  "Isn't the answer to your question written in the scriptures [and are you not an expert in the scriptures?], how do you read it?" Jesus knows that this question is a hot-button question of the time.  It has been debated for generations by lawyers and there is no simple answer.  The lawyer gives the answer he has probably given whenever he has been asked this same question.  He quotes the Shema and it is a powerful answer. 

    The lawyer’s answer "plants the flag of God's sovereignty over the whole of one's life.  God's claim on us reaches to every area of our experience, to our innermost being (heart); our lives—what gives us our individual identity (soul); our energy, strength, resolves, and resources (might); and our understanding and intellectual capacities (mind).  No part of ourselves is to be withheld from God." The lawyer gets it right, but notice what Jesus says about his answer, "do this, and you will live." There was a belief at the time by some pharisees and others that it was more important to just think about the laws, to think about the Torah, than to actually do them—to live out the Torah.  It is not clear if this lawyer believed this, but Jesus puts an end to this philosophy—"do this, and you will live."  

    "Eternal life is found not just in knowing the commandments but in doing them...Those who live rightly ordered lives now—living out their love for God, others, and self—show that they have been touched by the kingdom of God. They will have the capacity to receive the promised inheritance: life in fellowship with God and others in the age to come."  Because, in the age to come, care for others will be the norm.  The kingdom of God breaks into our daily life whenever we show the love of God to those around us.  The kingdom of God will be fully known when the we no longer put our needs before the needs of others; the needs of the poor; the needs of the last, lost, least, the little, the lifeless will become our main priority and focus in life—in eternal life.

    Jesus has forced the lawyer to answer his own question, and that annoys the lawyer.  The lawyer feels the need to justify himself so he asks a followup question of Jesus, "And who is my neighbor." Now it is Jesus' turn to put a definitive answer onto the man's question.  Yet, in typical Jesus fashion, he tells us a parable so that we could be like this lawyer and debate his definitive answer for the next 2000 plus years.  Jesus tells the lawyer and all those gathered the parable of the Good Samaritan, or as I like to call it, "The Parable of the Unlikely Helper." Jesus tells us about three people who come across a man who has been beaten, stripped of his clothes and money, and left for dead. A priest, a Levite and a Samaritan walk past this man.  This parable fits into the normal story telling of the day. "The audience can expect that in a series of three, the third character will break the pattern created by the first two. Moreover, the expected sequence would be priest, Levite, and then an Israelite."  By making the hero of the story a Samaritan, Jesus challenged the longstanding enmity between Jews and Samaritans...By depicting a Samaritans as the hero of the story...Jesus demolishes all boundary expectations.  Social position—race, religion, & region—count for nothing.  The man in the ditch, from whose perspective the story is told, will not discriminate among potential helpers.  Anyone who has compassion and stops to help is his neighbor...By naming the third character as a Samaritan not only challenges the hearers to examine the stereotype regarding Samaritans, but it also invalidates all stereotypes." 

    The community can no longer see one's neighbor in the person that looks like them, acts like them, or speaks like them.  Our neighbor, according to the lawyer and Jesus, is the one who showed mercy. It should be noted that the lawyer could not even bring himself to admit that a Samaritan would be the hero of the parable.  He simply says, "the one who showed mercy." He tries to circumvent Jesus, but his answer provides an accurate description of a neighbor—one who shows mercy.  Jesus removes race, religion, and regional boundaries of neighborliness to simply include the essential nature of what neighbors must do for each other—show mercy.  

    "Jesus parable...shatters the stereotypes of social boundaries and class division, and renders void any system of religious quid pro quo.  Neighbors do things for each other and expect nothing in return. Neighbors do not recognize social class.  Mercy is neither the conduct of calculating heart, nor is eternal life the reward for doing prescribed duties.  Eternal life—the life of the age to come—is that quality of life characterized by showing mercy for those in need, regardless of their race, religion or region—and with no thought of reward.  Mercy sees only need and responds with compassion regardless of one’s ability to repay the favor." For it would not be mercy if we deserved it.  It is mercy because there is no way for us to return the favor.  

    Part of being a disciples, my brothers and sisters, is proclaiming the kingdom of God.  When Jesus sent out the 70 out, they were instructed to preach the kingdom.  Part of preaching the kingdom is showing others what God's coming kingdom looks like.  It looks like a place where people go out of their way to help someone they do no know.  The kingdom will no longer have boundaries such as race, religion and region to divide the people.  Our job as Christians is to not judge, it is not to figure out if someone deserves our love and affection.  Our job, our holy calling as Christians, is to lift up the fallen, restore the broken, and heal the hurting.  

    People of God, I want you to think long and hard this week about who is your neighbor and where you can bring God's kingdom?  Who needs to hear about God's coming kingdom i. Your life?  Who needs to see God's kingdom in action?  That is your homework this week—preach the kingdom, bring the kingdom to your neighbor and do not let race, religion or region stop you from doing this work.  Go and show mercy. 

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   
3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11